Black Hawk eyes development renaissance

Gregory Street, Black Hawk
Black Hawk is realigning Gregory Street to create a pedestrian-friendly entertainment district that will include a mix of commercial, retail and hospitality uses, active street-front retail and integrated public spaces.
Jack Lewis

Jack Lewis
City manager, Black Hawk

How does a historic mining and mill town of less than 2 square miles become a destination for more than 20,000 visitors daily and a gaming hub that contributes $88 million annually in taxes to the Colorado economy? With the indomitable spirit and unwavering vision for progress and prosperity that first drove the Pikes Peak Gold Rush of the 1800s.

Black Hawk, “The City of Mills,” is Colorado’s second-oldest city. After peaking with a population of more than 2,000 in the late 1800s, Black Hawk began to decline in numbers in the early 20th century. On Oct. 1, 1991, following a successful Colorado ballot measure that allowed limited stakes gambling in the commercial districts of Black Hawk and two other Colorado mountain towns, speculators opened the first renovated historic structures for use as casinos. Gaming proved spectacularly successful in attracting new investment to the area in amounts unheard of since the gold boom more than a century before.

In Black Hawk’s most recent revival over the past 20 years, over $1 billion has been invested in land, casinos and related development to create the popular Gaming Outstanding Lodging and Dining District, commonly known as the GOLD District. Today, this mountain city is ranked 18th in gaming destinations by the American Gaming Association and generates over 85 percent of Colorado’s gaming tax revenue.

With a can-do Western attitude, Black Hawk is determined to make the most from the second-boom period by creating a vision for the next iteration of what the city can offer tourists and the state of Colorado.

The city is proactively planning to broaden its economy through an innovative vision for its next renaissance. The vision is to create the first gaming-centric destination in the state with all of the amenities of a premiere resort location resulting in the fusion of gaming, entertainment, shopping, exceptional culinary experiences and outdoor recreation. In doing so, the city hopes to attract new visitors and an expanded source of revenue for the city and for those who stake their business in the 1.5-square-mile city limits.

By increasing the number of restaurants and nongaming activities in Black Hawk, the region could expect an estimated $197 million a year in incremental revenue, according to the city’s strategic plan. Increasing the number of nongaming businesses is also expected to draw an additional 44,000 visitors annually.

“Our vision is designed to drive and increase visitor volume and velocity through variety, which translates into more visitors, more often, for a longer period of time because we will have more to offer,” said Mayor David Spellman. “The addition of these amenities will establish Black Hawk as Colorado’s premier gaming resort destination.”

With enthusiastic, forward-thinking city leaders and less than 100 residents, the city’s progressive outlook and nimble decision-making make it one of the most business-friendly environments in the state.

To make way for this vision to become reality, the city is realigning Gregory Street to create a pedestrian-friendly entertainment district that will enhance the historic mining town’s gaming experience. The city’s development goals include a mix of commercial, retail and hospitality uses, active street-front retail and integrated public space. This will create development opportunities within blocks of existing casinos with targeted amenities such as:

  • Craft breweries, distilleries, vintner and tasting rooms.
  • Entertainment venues.
  • An event/conference venue.
  • Local specialty retailers and craftsmen.
  • Outdoor entertainment facilities.
  • Educational experiences with historic properties, like the Celebrated Gregory Diggings and Bobtail Gold Mine.

The development area is comprised of several parcels on Gregory Street and represents approximately 71,000 square feet of potential building area. As part of the development, the city intends to offer the 5,000-sf restored and renovated Crooks Palace on a long-term lease. The development also plans a three-story, 124-car parking garage in the new area to accommodate the increased visitation.

To bolster this enterprising vision, the city has a goal for the inclusion of 3,000 hotel rooms located within the GOLD District. Upon the completion of Monarch Casino’s 500-room luxury hotel and spa, the city will be half way to this critical mass of hotel rooms.

In addition to the Gregory Street realignment, Black Hawk recently purchased and annexed 600 acres on Maryland Mountain that now are part of its History Appreciation Recreation Destination district. This will provide passive recreational activities in areas intentionally left free of development for wildlife corridors and habitats, scenic views, historical areas, landmarks, forest range and agricultural land. The city plans to develop hiking and mountain biking trails, a nature center and picnic areas in the area.

These efforts will mark another important entry in the city’s history that will set the stage for the next renaissance in Black Hawk. As Black Hawk preserves the spirit of its past, it continues to prepare for the future with an exciting new vision for a development renaissance. Be part of Black Hawk’s next development renaissance!

Featured in CREJ’s January Retail Properties Quarterly.

Edited by the Colorado Real Estate Journal staff.